Friday, September 5, 2008

Briefly: U.S. on Armenia-Turkey relations, NK talks and Armenia's politics; Senate on Ambassador to Armenia nominee

First published in the June 28, 2008 Armenian Reporter.

Washington Briefing
by Emil Sanamyan and Yelena Osipova

U.S. official: Pres. Sargsian brings new optimism to conflict resolution efforts

Armenian president Serge Sargsian stated intention to invite his Turkish counterpart to Armenia is “an amazing development that seemed impossible a few months ago,” U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matt Bryza said during the annual Turgut Ozal memorial lecture hosted by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy on June 24.

While on an official visit to Russia earlier this week, Pres. Sargsian said he would look for ways to improve relations with Turkey, including by inviting its President Abdullah Gül to watch the Armenia-Turkey World Cup qualification game in Yerevan this September.

Mr. Bryza reiterated the U.S. position urging Turkey to restore diplomatic relations and open its border with Armenia. But he also endorsed Turkey’s demand for Armenia to recognize the existing border between the two countries.

The official, who is also the lead U.S. envoy to the Karabakh peace process, said he hopes to set a framework for agreement over the conflict by the end of this year.

“It’s not all sweetness and light, but [after the presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia met in Russia earlier this month], it seemed these are two leaders that think in a much more similar way than was the case with Sargsian’s predecessor [Robert Kocharian],” he said.

“Both leaders [of Armenia and Azerbaijan] now seem to be pragmatic, practical and ready to explore each side’s needs when it comes to Nagorno-Karabakh settlement,” the official claimed.

Mr. Bryza focused most of his remarks on the importance of U.S.-Turkish relations, from security to energy, while also pointing to his deep personal attachment to Turkey.

Turning to Turkey’s troubled domestic politics, Mr. Bryza recalled President George Bush’s 2005 inaugural address, in which he said that “democracy, by definition, [needs] to be different in every country depending on cultural and historical circumstances.”

“So, things will happen in Turkey that may not accord with the way we structure our democracy, but we are confident that the Turkish democratic system is strong enough to work this out,” he added.

State Department’s democracy bureau head tours Caucasus

David Kramer, appointed last month as U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for democracy, human rights, and labor, visited Armenia on June 24–25.

In meetings with Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian, other officials, opposition representatives and a subsequent press conference, Mr. Kramer repeated and seemingly sharpened U.S. criticism of the Armenian government’s handling of the post-election protests and calls for Armenia to “get back on a democratic path.”

In remarks akin to those made by Sen. Ben Cardin (D.-Md.) last week (see this page in the June 21 Armenian Reporter), Mr. Kramer appeared to question the credibility of the official probe into March 1 violence in Yerevan that left 10 dead and hundreds, many of them police, injured.

Prior to his current appointment, Mr. Kramer served on the U.S. Helsinki Commission, which Sen. Cardin co-chairs.

From Yerevan, Mr. Kramer proceeded to Tbilisi and Baku.

Senator delays consideration of nominee for Armenia Ambassador

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D.-Calif.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, requested a onemonth delay in the committee’s consideration of Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch’s nomination as U.S. envoy to Armenia in order to ensure that there is sufficient time for the State Department to respond to senators’ written questions, the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) reported on June 24.

The Senate committee held a formal hearing on the nomination on June 19, in which committee member Sen. Robert Menendez (D.-N.J.) pressed Ms. Yovanovitch on the Bush administration’s refusal to affirm the U.S. government’s own record on the Armenian Genocide.

The committee then scheduled a vote on the nomination for its June 24 business meeting, which Sen. Boxer’s request now delays to until after the July 4 recess.

In 2006 and again in 2007, Sen. Menendez blocked the previous nominee for the position, Amb. Richard Hoagland, after the administration cut short the ambassadorial term of John M. Evans over his public remarks affirming the Armenian Genocide.

While no senator has yet indicated an intention to block Amb. Yovanovitch’s nomination, Sens. Menendez and Boxer, as well as the committee chair, Sen. Joe Biden (D.-Del.), Sens. Robert Casey (D.-Penn.), Norm Coleman (R.-Minn.), Russ Feingold (D.-Wis.), John Kerry (D.-Mass.), and Barack Obama (D.-Ill.) submitted written questions to the nominee that have not yet been answered.

Turkish, Azerbaijani interests lobby House Committee over Caucasus hearing

In written statements earlier this month, the Turkish Coalition of America (TCA) and the Assembly of Turkish American Associations (ATAA) sought to influence House Foreign Affairs Committee members on matters related to Armenia ahead of its rare hearing on the Caucasus region held on June 18.

In a letter dated June 11 and containing numerous factual flaws, ATAA tried to deny the very fact that Turkey was blockading Armenia, even suggesting that the recent football game between Armenian and Turkish youth teams in an international competition was a “good example of the access Armenia enjoys to the west via Turkey” and that “to the extent permitted by Russian forces, Turkey facilitates transit trade between the west and Armenia.”

Still, ATAA went on to justify Turkey’s unease with Armenia with reference to “Armenia’s occupation of Azerbaijan.”

Writing from presumably “occupied” Azerbaijan, the ruling New Azerbaijan Party, which is still formally led by the deceased president Heydar Aliyev, sent a letter protesting the views expressed during the hearing by “U.S. congressmen Mr Horwad Berman, Joe Clenberg, Brad Shermon, Adim Shiph and Frank Pellon,” the Trend News Agency reported on June 23.

Report notes link between petro-dollars, oppression

The 2008 Nations in Transit report, which studies the democratic development of the former Soviet and socialist states, noted a significant across-the-board regression in most of those states.

The report’s main co-authors Christopher Walker of Freedom House and Robert Orttung of the Jefferson Institute, spoke at the June 24 report launch hosted by Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) in Washington.

They expressed a particular concern with states having vast inflows of capital due to rapidly growing energy exports, such as Russia, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan, and not demonstrating improvements in terms of democratic governance. Mr. Orttung argued that while accumulated oil wealth did not cause the downturn in democracy, it is helping to entrench and sometimes deepen it.

The report’s Armenia chapter authored by Anna Walker of the Economist Intelligence Unit covered developments throughout 2007 and noted no major changes in that period other than relative improvements associated with the May 2007 Parliamentary elections.

Overall, Slovenia and Slovakia have received the best scores from the authors, with perennial outliers Belarus and Turkmenistan scoring the worst.


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